Patrick H Pearse
(Poet, Irish Rebel, Gaelic scholar and visionary)
Patrick Pearse was born in Dublin, Ireland on November 10, 1879 to an English sculptor and an Irish woman. The couple had three children: two sons and a daughter. Patrick became interested in Ireland and its Irish history early in life. He joined the Gaelic League, a group founded to preserve the Irish language, at age 21. In order to promote the League's cause, Patrick changed his anglicized name to the Irish version, Pádraic. Pearse quickly became known as a leader and spokesman for the Gaelic League. His beginnings in this small group would lead to his rise to power in more militant Irish republican groups.
Pádraic Pearse entered the Gaelic League a young boy looking to explore his Irish history. Within three years of joining, he was the editor of the League's weekly newspaper: An Claidheamh Soluis ("The Sword of Light"). Pearse served as editor of the paper for six years (Britannica On Line). The title of the paper seemed to symbolize Pearse as a man in his early years of battling the British. He tried numerous ways to defeat the British intellectually. He used knowledge, not force, in attempts to liberate Ireland. Some of Pearse's tactics included publishing old Irish tales from ancient manuscripts and also publishing his own works in Irish rather than English. In 1908, Pearse founded St. Edna's College near Dublin. St Edna's structured its curriculum around Irish traditions and culture. Moreover, the college taught both the Irish and English languages.
Although Pearse started out as a literary warrior, he soon found that intellect alone would not rid Ireland of the English. Pearse became involved in militant groups as both a poet and a warrior and benefited Ireland immensely in both ways.
Pearse is known best for his part in planning and executing the Easter Rising of 1916. However, he also played an important role in the advancement of Irish literature. In the late 19th century The Gaelic Revival took place in Ireland. This was a literary movement that focused on the "rich vocabulary and idiomatic expressions in the Irish language and folklore" (BOL). However, the members of this movement were challenged by the diverse dialects of the language. Moreover, there were very few modern works in the genre at the time. Most of the literature being published in Irish was the myths and legends of historical Ireland. Nothing produced early in the revival could compete internationally. It was not until the middle of the 20th century that the language was standardized. At this time, Patrick Pearse was one of the pioneer Irish writers. His poems, essays, and articles were exactly what the Irish needed. Although they were written for the sole purpose of freeing Ireland, his works gave inspiration to a younger generation of poets. He and several of his contemporaries began to write with pure emotion and passion. This was the stepping stone for Irish literature and its launch into the international realm.
When the name Patrick Pearse is mentioned, most do not think of his literary contribution to Ireland. This contribution was significant, but it is not what Pearse died for. His name is not carved in history forever because of his essays or articles. When his name is mentioned, almost all who hear it will think of the Easter Rising of 1916. This is the battle which catapulted Ireland towards freedom. It is also the battle that Pearse and the rebels lost. The battle that, shortly after it ended, Pearse and his friends were executed by firing squad. To understand the rising and why it took place, one must look at the events leading to the rising.
In 1912, thousands of protestant Ulstermen (those Irish residing in the Northeasern province of Ulster) signed the Ulster Covenant of Resistance to Home Rule (BOL). Rather than submit to Home Rule, their leaders decided that a provisional government would be established in Ulster. As tension and controversy over the issue heightened, a paramilitary group, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) was formed. The UVF was backed by the British military. At one point, an entire cavalry brigade of the Royal Army threatened to resign if ordered to move against the Ulster protestants (DeRosa p. 31) As the Catholics in Ulster became more organized, the protestant paramilitary groups began to attack them. Whenever Catholics would march for religious or economic equality, a riot would usually follow. These were brought on by attacks from the Ulster Volunteer Force.
As a rival to this force, the Irish Volunteers were formed in November 1913, with Pearse a member of their committee. Again, Pearse contributed poems, articles, and essays to the group's newspaper, The Irish Volunteer. In July 1914, Pearse was made a member of the Supreme Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), a separate militant group that believed in using force to throw the British out of Ireland. The Irish Volunteers, Ulster Volunteer Force, and the IRB began to stockpile weapons. Ireland was very near a civil war when World War I erupted in Europe. At this point, the Irish Volunteers split. One group supported British efforts in the war with Germany. The other group, along with the IRB, was totally against any support for British troops. It was with this group that Pearse aligned himself.
John Redmond, a member of Parliament fighting for Home Rule, took a pro British stance during the war. This alienated many Irish citizens and support for the Brotherhood grew. Shortly before 1915, the Irish Republican Brotherhood had plans for a full military revolution in Ireland. Pearse was a believer in a revolution while the British were occupied fighting a war in Europe. He felt that the only way to liberate Ireland was for people to die. He expressed these feelings in his famous oration at the funeral of Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa in August 1915. Rossa was a member of the Sinn Féin party, which supported the use of force to free Ireland. In this oration, Pearse stated the following:
"We stand at Rossa's grave not in sadness, but in exultation
of spirit... This is a place of peace sacred to the dead, where men should
speak with all charity and all restraint; but I hold it a Christian thing... to
hate evil, to hate untruth, to hate oppression, and hating them to strive to
overthrow them... while Ireland holds these graves, Ireland unfree, shall never
be at peace."
The actual planning for the Easter Rising of 1916 began almost two years before the actual rebellion. The planning was a very complicated process headed by Pearse and a select group of men on the military council of the IRB. Sir Roger Casement, an Englishman who believed in the Irish cause, was sent to Germany in an attempt to obtain arms. Casement convinced the Germans to send some rifles but the ship arrived early and was sunk by the British Navy. One of the most difficult aspects in the planning of the rising was its secrecy. Pearse and his comrades kept the rising secret from the highest leaders in the IRB, including Eoin MacNeill, the Chief of Staff of the IRB. The leaders on the Supreme Council opposed an insurrection while the military council was secretly planning one. Pearse noted that so many Irish risings had been defeated due to informants and resistance within the Irish themselves. For this reason, only about 30 people knew about the rising until a few days before it was to take place. As it drew near, the Supreme Council and the English government found out about the planned action. The British had sunk a German ship in Irish waters and arrested Sir Roger Casement upon his return to Ireland. The Supreme Council issued a statement in the Irish papers that all manoeuvres scheduled for Easter Sunday were cancelled. Upon this notification, the British officials were confident that there would be no conflict. Down, but not defeated, Pearse and the military council met to figure out what should be done.
It was decided that the rising would be put off one day, until Easter Monday. Pearse spread word to all of the forces around the country that manoeuvres would go the next day. Although many of the volunteers were happy, several were fed up with the inconsistency and opted not to participate in the rising. It was also at this meeting that Pearse and six others signed the "Proclamation of the Republic of Ireland" written mostly by Pearse. Shortly before the signing, the six members elected Pádraic H. Pearse president of Ireland. It truly was an emotional moment for the seven men for they knew that what they were signing was also their death warrant (DeRosa p.229).
On Monday, April 24, 1916, the revolution began. Pearse and his army took control of the General Post Office in Dublin along with several other buildings in Dublin. Above the Post Office, the Union Jack of England was hauled down, and the tricolor of Ireland raised. Shortly afterwards, Pearse accompanied by his brother, Willie, read the proclamation on the front steps of the Post Office. Ireland was free. Although the British were caught completely off guard, it did not take long for them to raise a force equal to that of the ill-equipped volunteers. The rebels surprised many by holding out for an entire week. However, under heavy artillery and out of ammunition, Pearse surrendered to the British on April 30. The battle was over, but Pearse had carved his name in history forever. Moreover, the Easter Rising is seen by many as the beginning of the end of English rule in Ireland.
On May 3, 1916 Pádraic H. Pearse and fourteen others are executed by firing squad without trial for leading the insurrection in Dublin. Eamon de Valera was the only leader spared because he was half American; the English government did not want sympathy for the Irish to grow in the United States (Foster p.198) The executions created a feeling of revulsion against the British and turned the leaders, especially Pearse, into martyrs. De Valera re-established the provisional government of Ireland in 1917 (Foster pp.200-202). This government was elected by Irish members of Parliament at a meeting in Dublin called the Dáil Éireann, meaning the "Irish Assembly." Michael Collins formed the Irish Republican Army to carry out guerilla tactics against the British army and officials (BOL). Pearse's poetic oration at Rossa's funeral and the reading of the proclamation became symbols for Ireland's new government. Attempts by Britain to rule Ireland with any authority were futile until the establishment of the Irish Free State in December 1921.
Although Patrick Pearse was executed and the rising was an immediate failure, it was an overall victory. Pearse accomplished what no other Irishmen in history had done. He led a rising that was a total surprise to the British military. He permanently unnerved the British presence in most of Ireland. His actions and subsequent execution was the turning point in Irish history. Patrick Pearse did exactly what he set out to do, he gave his life for the freedom of Ireland. Pearse's words at Rossa's funeral still ring true to this very day, "Ireland unfree, will never be at peace" (DeRosa p. 74). The fighting and bombings continue in Northern Ireland and there is no doubt that Patrick Pearse is still in the Irish Republican Army in spirit and soul.
Sources: University Collage Cork